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California To Pay Restaurants To Feed Needy Seniors

Patch logo Patch 4/24/2020 Paige Austin
a large white building: A first of its kind nationwide, the program would use FEMA funding to get restaurants hiring again so they can deliver meals to seniors. © Shutterstock A first of its kind nationwide, the program would use FEMA funding to get restaurants hiring again so they can deliver meals to seniors.

LOS ANGELES, CA — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a novel aid program Friday that aims to get restaurants rehiring workers right away while also feeding needy seniors and generating sales tax revenue for city governments. California will team up with the federal government to pay restaurants to provide three meals a day to needy seniors.

The partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local governments will provide eligible seniors with 21 meals a week, Newsom said. FEMA will cover 75% of the costs of the meals. The state will cover most of the remaining costs, and restaurants would be reimbursed at rates of $16 for breakfasts, $17 for lunches and up to $28 for dinners. According to Newsom, the program is a first of its kind in the nation.

"This partnership will allow for the ability for restaurants to start rehiring people or keep people currently employed and start preparing meals, three meals a day, seven days a week, and have those meals delivered to our seniors all throughout the state of California," Newsom said. "We will provide an unlimited number of meals, no cap in terms of that support."

Restaurants have been devastated since the state issued shutdown orders, and city governments are facing massive tax shortfalls with local businesses closed. At the same time, communities are struggling to find ways to keep vulnerable seniors safe while still providing them with groceries and meals. Billions in federal relief packages have been unable to serve all the dire and often competing needs during the pandemic. This program aims to tackle three problems — skyrocketing unemployment, municipal budget shortfalls, and protecting seniors — with the same money.

Newsom said there will be eligibility requirements for seniors, based in part on their income but also based on their risk of exposure to COVID-19, if they have a compromised immune system or if they have been directly impacted or exposed to the coronavirus.

Newsom said exact eligibility requirements will be decided at the local level. He also noted that in addition to providing business for restaurants that have been forced to dramatically scale back operations, the costs of meals will also generate tax revenue for local governments.

"Now we have the ability to have a locally driven decision-making to start employing workers and get these restaurants reopened and provide hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of prepared meals every day delivered to our seniors throughout the state of California," he said.

The governor said the program will also have nutrition guidelines for the meals.

"We want to make sure we are focused on locally produced produce," he said. "We want to connect our farms to this effort. We want to focus our values throughout the state of California to get a lot of independent restaurants up and running again as well, and have a diversity of options. And make sure what we are sending to our seniors is low sodium, not high fructose drinks or sugary drinks and the like, so there's guidelines that we're putting out and we're just very excited about this partnership."

Information on the program — dubbed "Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Older Californians" — is available on the state's website at covid19.ca.gov.

City News Service

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